At Phi Mu Alpha’s annual music competition, Hillsdale students rocked till they dropped —almost through the floor of the local Elks Lodge. On November 17, approximately 300 people gathered to witness six student bands go head-to-head in the Battle of the Bands. The winner would receive bragging rights and the opportunity to donate the event’s proceeds to the charity of their choice.
Associate Professor of English Dwight Lindley served as one of the competition’s judges along with fellow college faculty members Associate Professor of Classics Eric Hutchinson and Assistant Professor of Music Derek Stauff.
“I thought it was a lot of fun and I would do it again,” Lindley said. “The bands were of a higher quality than what I’ve sometimes heard. It was very enjoyable.”
Senior Shad Strehle, president of Hillsdale’s chapter of Phi Mu Alpha, said he agreed. With more than 100 people in attendance as the program began, the night was off to a great start.
“People were there early and they stuck around,” he said. “The bands played some of the best sets I’ve heard. The room was electric. Everyone was having a great time. It was on track to be the most successful Battle of the Bands in history.”
That is, until the floor began to cave in.
“At one point toward the end of Penny and the Mandimes, Dr. Hutchinson and I looked at each other and said, ‘I feel like we’re looking down at the crowd in a way that we weren’t a few minutes ago,’” Lindley said. “I found myself thinking, ‘Did all the tall Simpson guys leave?’ because all of the sudden people were feeling shorter. It was only gradually that I realized ‘No, they’re all here, the floor is just lower.’ It was sort of an otherworldly experience.”
As it turned out, a roomful of enthusiastic Hillsdalians jumping in time with the music proved too much for the old wooden floor, even though attendance was lower than the official room capacity of 400.
“We knew there was a problem when we could physically see the floor bowing by the middle of the third set,” Strehle said. “But we didn’t realize there was any structural damage until I went down to the basement during the fourth set. When people jumped, the door to the basement would fly open because of air being pushed through the floor. That’s when someone from the Elks Lodge said we needed to act.”
Despite a band in progress and two more still scheduled to perform, Strehle was forced to cut the evening short.
“It was disappointing, obviously,” said junior Carson Waites, who was performing with his band, the Biomechanics, when Strehle broke the news to the crowd. “We love performing — that’s why we play. But it’s certainly not our only avenue of performing music, and cancelling the rest of the event was for the best. It’s an old building and I guess when you rock that hard, things like that happen.”
Without a completed competition, Strehle said it didn’t make sense to declare a winner.
“There was no way for the judges to make a decision,” he said. “They left without even really filling out their forms, which is understandable. Voting got pretty messed up. A lot of people took refunds and we lost a lot of money.”
There are no plans to hold a rematch anytime soon.
So far, Phi Mu Alpha has not spoken with Elks Lodge to discuss the damage, although they plan to meet in the near future. In the meantime, the Dean’s Office will be reaching out to the lodge to discuss the matter. Strehle said the music fraternity has enjoyed a great relationship with Elks Lodge for years and hopes both parties will be able to walk away without any ill-will.
Regardless of how the situation turns out, however, Strehle said he is thankful that everyone made it out of the building safely.
“In the moment it was rather terrifying to be in that situation and I was getting kind of desperate trying to get people to clear out,” he said. “For similar circumstances in the future, if you’re at a party or a show and somebody gives you a warning, take it seriously. If people had seen what I’d seen, I think they would have been a lot more concerned.”
But despite the gravity of a situation that could have ended in disaster, the incident may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Phi Mu Alpha. Junior Reagan Dugan has attended the event every year he’s been at Hillsdale and said he will absolutely go again.
“Inevitably next year’s Battle of the Bands is going to be even bigger because everyone heard about how we almost broke the floor,” Dugan said. “I’ll be telling the story of the time the 6’9” guy in the middle of the floor was below my chin.”